Austen for Beginners

Persuasion - the plot


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Persuasion – the text

Setting the scene...
  • Anne Elliot, our heroine, is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall in Somerset. Her younger sister, Mary, is respectably married, her elder sister, Elizabeth continues at home with herself and her father and runs the household following her mother's death some years earlier. Anne's godmother, Lady Russell, lives in the nearby village and is Anne's favoured confidante, since she and Elizabeth don't get on very well.
  • A distant cousin, William Walter Elliot, is the heir to Sir Walter's title, since Sir Walter has no son; Mr Elliot was expected to marry Elizabeth, but annoyed Sir Walter by marrying someone else and since then they have not been in contact.
  • Sir Walter has been consistently spending above his income, and the time comes when he must either significantly cut his spending, or resign himself to leaving Kellynch Hall. Eventually the decision is taken to let out the estate and to move to Bath. The Hall is let to Admiral and Mrs Croft and Sir Walter and his two daughters prepare to leave.
  • Anne discovers that Mrs Croft is the sister of Captain Wentworth, with whom she fell in love seven years previously and would have married, but was persuaded out of it by her father and Lady Russell, who considered the marriage beneath her station in life. Anne has never fallen in love since and is considerably disturbed by the thought that Captain Wentworth might cross her path again.
The Crofts arrive and the Elliots depart
  • Elizabeth has become friendly with Mrs Clay, the daughter of Mr Shepherd, the lawyer who has been advising Sir Walter. The move to Bath is accomplished with Mrs Clay's help, since Elizabeth spurns Anne's assistance in favour of her friend. Anne doesn't approve of this friendship and goes to stay with Mary, her married sister at Uppercross, three miles away, who needs her to help with her children. Anne is grateful to be thought useful to somebody, and is not sorry to be away from Kellynch when the Crofts move in.
  • Anne and Lady Russell are rather concerned that Mrs Clay, who is a widow, has ideas above her station and may even try to trap Sir Walter into marriage, but Elizabeth poo-poos such a suggestion.
  • Anne enjoys her stay at Uppercross - although she is not particularly close to Mary, the Musgroves (Mary's husband Charles's family) are all pleasant and agreeable towards her. The Crofts call on the Musgroves, and it transpires that a son of the Musgroves, now dead, was a sailor who once served on Captain Wentworth's ship. Captain Wentworth is expected to visit his sister soon, and the Musgroves decide to call on him when he arrives.
Enter Captain Wentworth
  • Captain Wentworth duly arrives at Kellynch, and Mr Musgrove calls on him there. The call is returned, and soon the Captain is appearing at dinner and at a shoot at Uppercross. Anne sees him briefly when he calls at Uppercross Cottage one morning but they do not have any particular conversation. She afterwards discovers that he finds her much changed since they last met. Captain Wentworth himself was very disappointed that she was persuaded out of marrying him, and although he is now rich and ready to find a wife, Anne definitely isn't on the shortlist.
  • Anne and Captain Wentworth now meet regularly at dinners and parties, but he is only ever polite to her. She feels he must now find her utterly unattractive and an old maid, and is thoroughly depressed.
  • Mary has no idea that Anne and Captain Wentworth were ever engaged, since she was at school at the time, and is soon matchmaking between Captain Wentworth and her husband's sisters, Henrietta and Louisa. One of the Musgrove cousins, Charles Hayter, who has been courting Henrietta, is not amused.
A trip to Lyme
  • An excursion to Lyme, a nearby seaside resort is planned. It is too far to go and return in one day, so the party, consisting of Charles and Mary Musgrove, Captain Wentworth, Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove and Anne herself, spend the night at an inn in Lyme. Anne unexpectedly sees her cousin, William Elliott, but doesn't realise who he is until after he has left.
  • During their stay, they are all introduced to Captain Harville, who served on Captain Wentworth's ship in the past and is now living in Lyme with his wife. With them is Captain Benwick, who was once engaged to Captain Harville's sister, but who unfortunately died while he was away at sea. Captain Benwick seems to take a liking to Anne.
  • Just before they are due to leave Lyme, the party takes a last walk along the seafront and Louisa falls, bangs her head on the pavement and knocks herself out. She is unconscious for some time and Henrietta, thinking she is dead, falls down in a faint.
  • Louisa is taken in by the Harvilles. Captain Wentworth is almost beside himself; it is eventually agreed that Charles and Mary Musgrove will stay behind with Louisa while Captain Wentworth escorts Anne and Henrietta home and breaks the news of Louisa's injury to her parents. It would have been better if Anne had stayed with Louisa, since she is much better at nursing than Mary, but Mary insists.
  • Louisa recovers slowly; Anne returns to Lady Russell's house and from there to Bath to her father and sister. 
Bath and its amusements
  • Anne finds her father and sister well-settled. William Elliot, who is now a widower, has made his appearance in Bath and has been accepted back into the family - he seems pleasant enough and Anne is happy to be in company with him. She is not so happy to find that Mrs Clay is still in residence and showing no signs of going home.
  • Lady Russell is also in Bath, and Anne spends some time with her. Meanwhile she receives a letter from Mary to say that Louisa Musgrove has returned to Uppercross and is to marry, not Captain Wentworth as everyone thought, but Captain Benwick. Anne secretly admits to herself that she is overjoyed that Captain Wentworth remains free.
  • Captain Wentworth appears in Bath to stay with the Crofts; Anne meets him and tries desperately to decide whether he was ever in love with Louisa Musgrove, or not.
  • Anne discovers an old schoolfriend, Mrs Smith, is living in Bath and has fallen on hard times. She visits her regularly and eventually discovers that Mrs Smith knew William Elliot some years before. 
  • Mrs Smith guesses that Mr Elliot intends to marry Anne for his own benefit, but has not said so as she thought Anne might fall in love with him and did not want to prejudice her against him. Anne reassures her that she is not in love with Mr Elliot and has no intention of marrying him. Mrs Smith then tells her that she asked him for help after her husband died, but he did not assist her.
  • Charles and Mary arrive in Bath together with Charles's parents, Henrietta and Captain Harville. Henrietta's marriage to Charles Hayter, as well as Louisa's to Captain Benwick, is being planned and there is shopping to do. Anne is now convinced that Captain Wentworth was never in love with Louisa, but has the horrible suspicion that he believes Anne herself to be in love with Mr Elliot, and wonders how on earth she is going to suggest otherwise when etiquette dictates that she cannot just come out and say so.
A letter settles the question
  • Anne arranges to spend the day with the Musgrove party, and meets them at the inn where they are staying. Already there are Captain Harville and Captain Wentworth, who have some business in the town and are about to leave. Captain Wentworth is writing a letter; while he is doing so, Anne and Captain Harville have a conversation about whether men or women are more likely to remain in love for good. Captain Wentworth overhears enough of the conversation to give him hope that Anne still has feelings for him. 
  • As soon as he finishes his letter, they depart, but he returns instantly, saying he has forgotten his gloves. He leaves a note for Anne on the table; as soon as he has gone, she reads it to discover that he still loves her and wants to marry her. She excuses herself to the Musgroves and goes after him.
  • They walk in the park together and everything is settled. Sir Walter gives his consent this time; after all, Captain Wentworth is now rich, so even Elizabeth considers that there is no disgrace in Anne's marrying him. Lady Russell is forced to admit that she was wrong, and does so graciously, especially when she discovers that William Elliot, whom she had thought would be a suitable husband for Anne, is not such a paragon as she thought.
  • William Elliot retreats to London, shortly followed by Mrs Clay, whom he sets up as his mistress, but doesn't marry, although Mrs Clay does not give up hope of talking him into it.
  • Captain Wentworth helps Mrs Smith recover some of her husband's property interests in the West Indies, something she has been unable to do herself, and her circumstances are much improved as a result.

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Austen for Beginners 2008
Austen for Beginners   Pride and Prejudice   Sense and Sensibility   Emma   Mansfield Park   Northanger Abbey   Persuasion